Found April 18, 2012 on Fox Sports North:
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MINNEAPOLIS It's been a week since the dazed stare that was the most jarring moment of the Timberwolves' season, since Kevin Love was escorted from the court in Denver with what turned out to be a mild concussion. In that time, Love has been largely MIA and at least somewhat symptomatic. He stopped by the Target Center briefly on Tuesday night and told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he hopes to return to the court Sunday against Golden State. But that won't happen until he passes a battery of NBA-mandated concussion tests, and even that target date will leave only two games Love can hope to salvage for the Timberwolves. "If they think he's OK to come, he'll be here," Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said of Love. "But again, you just have to deal with the situation that's right in front of you right now." His return, if things go to plan, will be a moral boost for a team that admitted Tuesday just how much of a mental struggle the past weeks have been. It could help snap an April losing streak that now stands at 27 games and 1,106 days unless a hapless Pistons team ends it Thursday but no matter what, Love's return can do little to erase what Adelman has learned in his absence. Before Love was elbowed in the head in Denver, there were murmurs of questions about his minutes. The Timberwolves weren't yet eliminated from the playoffs, saved that night by a Phoenix loss before officially exiting the race last Thursday, but the team had known for days that it wouldn't be heading to the postseason. Why, then, was Love still averaging 37.6 minutes in the five games he played in April? Why not give rookie Derrick Williams a fair shot at playing his real position and rest Love, who is averaging the second-most minutes per game of any player in the league? Those all seemed like logical options a week ago, options that would still give the team a decent shot to win. It wasn't a matter of benching Love but rather of limiting him to a more reasonable 30 minutes. But as he often has been this season, Adelman now seems correct in his approach; when Love's injury forced the coach to give more minutes to Williams, the rookie proved the inconsistency that's plagued him all season remained. After Love's injury, Williams picked up his minutes in Denver and finished the night with 27 points and eight rebounds, tying a season high in scoring. But since then, he's gotten just two starts in four games, against the Clippers and Oklahoma City. In last Saturday's game against the Thunder, he played only 13 minutes and was 0-for-4 from the field, finishing with just three points off free throws. "That's all part of learning what this league's all about," Adelman said. "Nothing's handed to you. You've got to go out, and you've got to earn it. Guys are going to come after you." Williams was given a chance, this time to play his natural position, and even then, he faltered. With that, Adelman continued to experiment, giving Anthony Randolph the starting job on Monday and Tuesday. Yes, Anthony Randolph, the same player who'd gotten minutes in just 29 games before starting in Indianapolis, the player who just weeks ago was being lumped together with Darko Milicic as someone who hadn't earned a right to take the court. When Randolph gets a start, it's hard to ignore that the Timberwolves are getting desperate. When he averages 22.0 points in three games and earns the compliments of teammates, it's impossible to deny that basketball can be a game of grand surprises. And when he goes on to finish with six and then four points in his two starts, the sport becomes nothing but a painful tease. For three games, Randolph competed like a former first-round pick playing for a future job. And as frustrating as that might have been for Adelman after waiting for Randolph to perform well all season, it's better than what the forward resorted to on Monday, when he acted as if three games had earned him the right to contest calls and challenge referees "You've got to earn them, I guess," Adelman said. "You earn the fouls and you earn the calls, and that's another thing he's got to learn." Before Love's injury, young players like Williams and Randolph might have felt as if their coach had something against them, Adelman said. It's a silly notion, he added, because any coach will give minutes to a player he thinks can help him win. But after the last four games, when each the No. 2 overall pick in 2011 and the seemingly cast-aside 2008 first-rounder got his shot, it's hard to make that argument anymore. No one knows better about earning a job than Nikola Pekovic, who observed that the roles Williams and Randolph have been put in are similar to the chance he was given to win the starting center spot. Sure, there's no doubt Love will return to the spot, but if one or both had performed well in his absence, it might have forced Adelman to get more creative with their minutes. "It's all just playing basketball," Michael Beasley said of his teammates' chances to fill in. "You've really got nothing to lose and everything to gain." Four games into Love's absence, Williams and Randolph have gained little. As much as it might make sense for Love to sit out the remainder of the season, it seems more and more as if the team's only shot at an April win might be with him as its starting power forward. But what might be more interesting than Love's progress is what Adelman does, at least on Thursday -- which player he decides is the lesser of two liabilities. Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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